Gnomon 2019

These are interesting times in Prudentius studies. Two of his longer poems in hexameters, Psychomachia and Hamartigenia, have recently received detailed treatment.(1)
Now K. provides a much-needed monograph on a third, Contra orationem Symmachi (= CS). In recent scholarship specific issues − the work’s unity, its time (or times) of composition, its genre − have dominated. Above all, its historical motivation has been debated. Why does Prudentius, in CS 2, give such prominence, a decade or more later, to the relatio of Symmachus, praefectus urbi in 384, on the issue of the Altar of Victory in the Roman Senate and Ambrose of Milan's episcopal response? Why is polemic about pagan survivals important in the wake of Theodosius’ intensive christianizing policies? (2) K. addresses these issues in her book, but only as part of a global interpretation of CS as a work of literature as well as a wide-ranging cultural statement.
K.’s approach to CS is based on a development of Foucault’s concept of discourse, in which − apart from written media − (con)textualized works of art, buildings and urban topography generally, coins, ritual, and political and social behavior may feature. She is also influenced by the methodology of Jan Assmann’s work on cultural memory. Her book started out as a doctoral thesis at the Freie Universität Berlin, and has been enriched by her membership of its Topoi research group »Ancient City Spaces«, and in particular by the group’s work on literary reception of Rome in late antiquity. Her dominant theme is Prudentius’ literary manipulation of Roman topography in CS. In chapter 4, the longest in the book, she demonstrates how polemic in CS against traditional pagan Roman religion is linked to key sites of religious and cultural importance − the Capitol, Forum, amphitheaters. Prudentius’ invective against the foreign and arbitrary nature of Roman cult is contrasted with Christianity as world religion, and the christianization of Rome is also a transformation of its urban space. Here chapter 6, where K. discusses Peristephanon 2, 11, 12, and 14 − the four Roman martyr poems − is an essential pendant to chapter 4. She argues persuasively that the dominant purpose of these poems is to create a Christian memorial landscape. The presence of martyrs’ shrines as monuments and places of ritual performance, combined with poetic narrative as performative utterance, is an external expression of religious conversion and appropriation: Roma Christo dedita (Peristephanon 2, 2).
Chapter 5 contains a compelling argument for the importance of allegory and metaphor in CS, rivalling that of Psychomachia and Hamartigenia. The argument is novel, for CS is not generally considered an allegorical poem. K. argues that the motifs of light, sickness, cleansing, the battle of good and evil, concord, and the linking of personified Rome to the emperor are all part of a complex allegorical framework that projects the inner psychological and religious lives of Romans, pagan and Christian, into the physical city and the events that determine its history. Allegory and metaphor spiritualize both city and events. Thus the direction, so to speak, of allegory in CS, from inner to outer, is contrasted with the outer-to-inner direction (city as allegory of soul) in Psychomachia and Hamartigenia. K.’s conclusion may surprise readers, but it demonstrates that a close reading of CS serves to highlight its subtlety.
K.’s style throughout is lucid and persuasive, and her arguments are copiously documented, engaging in detail with an impressive range of modern research in Roman and wider cultural studies. She subscribes to the pedagogical interpretation given in recent studies of the hexametric poems, stressing in the concluding chapter 7 the edifying purpose of CS to promote the Christian reader’s faith.
In a rich bibliography of 34 pages I miss only P.-Y. Fux’s valuable two volumes of commentary on the Peristephanon. (3) The appearance of C. O’Hogan’s book may have been too close to K.’s finalization of her book to be taken into consideration, but it also demonstrates in exemplary fashion that there are new insights to be gained from exploring the literary contextualization of space (including urban space) and the journey theme in Prudentius.(4)
Some details. K. draws attention to discussions of evidentia (enargeia) as a pro-grammatic principle of Prudentius’ style (325): it would have been helpful if she had gone into more detail how this affects the style of CS. The widespread use of allegory and metaphor in the Prudentian oeuvre generally leads her, perhaps over-hastily, to espouse W. Ludwig’s thesis that the oeuvre is one »Supergedicht« (275): stylistic practice and poetic intention need not coincide. But these are relatively minor matters. K.’s sound judgment is generally evident. She lists the several views in modern scholarship and the genre of CS, but sensibly refuses to opt for one of them: the poem is a clear late antique example of the mélange des genres, in which invective and didactic poetry dominate (41−2). The modification and recontextualization of the Symmachus-Ambrose debate by Prudentius is succinctly summarized (48−9). Bringing together outcomes of recent research, she compares, briefly and perceptively, details of Claudian’s panegyric of Stilicho (carmen 24) with Prudentius’ personification of Rome and praise of Theodosius in CS i (244−58).
In a short appendix (367−9) the historical and political context of CS is outlined. That is a necessary part of a detailed study of the poem, but its placing is aptly symbolic. The political and historical implications of CS have dominated recent scholarship. K.’s book has shown, with great clarity and good critical sense, that there is far more to the poem than that. Readers of Prudentius’ works have often taken least pleasure in reading CS: thanks to K. they can now begin at last to appreciate and enjoy its literary complexity. And the publisher has produced an elegant book.
Gerard O’Daly

(1) M. Mastrangelo, »The Roman Self in Late Antiquity. Prudentius and the Poetics of the Soul«, Baltimore, MD 2008; A. Dykes, »Reading Sin in the World. The Hamartigenia of Prudentius and the Vocation of the Responsible Reader«, Cambridge 2011; M. Malamud, »The Origin of Sin. An English Translation of the Hamartigenia (with an interpretive essay)«, Ithaca/London 2011.
(2) For a summary of recent views on these issues see the section on CS in G. O’Daly, »Prudentius«, Oxford Bibliographies (DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389661-0020) 2013.
(3) P.-Y. Fux, »Les sept passions de Prudence. Peristephanon 2, 5, 9, 11−14«, Fribourg 2003; id., »Prudence et les martyrs. Hymnes et tragedie. Peristephanon 1, 3−4, 6−8, 10«, Fribourg 2013.
(4) C. O’Hogan, »Prudentius and the Landscapes of Late Antiquity«, Oxford 2016,71−97,109−15.

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Dichtung und Weltanschauung in »Contra orationem Symmachi«
Krollpfeifer, Lydia

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